NYU: where Socratic dialogue is a Soviet-style four-hour oration from the Dear Leader

So the pro-Israel forces are in a tizzy again about a violation of campus propriety.

It seems that the Students for Justice in Palestine group at NYU distributed fliers across two dormitories informing the students that they had to evacuate their dorms because the buildings were going to be demolished within three days. The obvious point being to model what it feels like to be a Palestinian, who is routinely subjected to such notices. Which is exactly what the flier said. And just in case there was any confusion, the good folks at SJP took pains to write across the bottom of the flier:

THIS IS NOT A REAL EVICTION NOTICE. This is intended to draw attention to the reality that Palestinians confront an a regular basis.

Now pro-Israel students, groups, and politicians are claiming that the fliers are anti-Semitic and that they create a “hostile campus environment.” NYU has launched an investigation.

More hilarious, the university’s spokesman says that the fliers are “not an invitation to thoughtful, open discussion” and that they are “disappointingly inconsistent with standards we expect to prevail in a scholarly community.”

From the university where Socratic dialogue is a Soviet-style four-hour oration from the Dear Leader.

Outlook (5 pm)

For a much fuller and more comprehensive dissection of this “controversy,” see Phan Nguyen’s masterful take.


  1. John Maher April 25, 2014 at 12:03 pm | #

    Hilarious. Notices should be served on the White House. member of congress, corporate headquarters, and the middle class homeowners as well. Following Agamben and Butler this is about asking us all to reconsider whose life is considered sacred and whose is considered killable or disposessable. Reminds me of the Meerkat Mansion episode with the heartrending eviction or the blue Naw’ie [sic] being thrown out of their treehouse in the James Cameron film, except it asks us to reconsider our role in conducting such evictions by looking at our own actions and sense of exceptionalism. I say although this rhetorical device is spot on, it applies across species to human ecocide as well, which is a much larger concern.

  2. hophmi April 25, 2014 at 12:08 pm | #

    Ok, Corey, so what are the limits of student activism for you? How about a campus pro-Israel group putting a flier under the door of every student with a picture of a body of a young girl after a suicide bombing with the caption: “This is your sister. She was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist. Since 1994, hundreds of Israelis have died in this way. Caution: Not a real notice.”

    Ok by you?

    • Tevye April 25, 2014 at 12:19 pm | #

      It’s absolutely astonishing what the Left has decided is OK as long as the victims are Jews. This fascist street theater plays on Jews historic fears of eviction and disenfranchisement. The activists singled out people with Jewish names. Would it be OK to slip notices under the doors of Black students with threats to re-institute slavery?

      • Elizabeth April 26, 2014 at 4:51 pm | #

        “The activists singled out people with Jewish names.”


    • NathanH April 25, 2014 at 12:37 pm | #

      You’re not comparing ‘like for like’ — I didn’t see graphic pics on the pro-Palestinian flyer.

      • hophmi April 26, 2014 at 10:04 am | #

        It doesn’t matter. It’s a free speech question. Surely if it’s ok to do one, it’s ok to do the other.

      • Will G-R April 27, 2014 at 10:26 am | #

        Hophmi, it’s a free speech question? Really? None of the classical liberal arguments about necessary limitations on absolute freedom (Mill and the corn dealer, Holmes and the crowded theater) are remotely applicable to the difference between a mock eviction notice and a photo of a bombing victim? The chief argument being put forward against allowing these notices — inadequately demonstrated IMO, but put forward nonetheless — is that they cross the boundary between acceptable free speech and unacceptable threats/intimidation/harassment or whatever. If your implicit premise is that any defense of these notices must deny the existence of any such boundary at all, thus clearing the way for graphic pics of gory dismembered corpses, you’re being either staggeringly obtuse or deliberately dishonest.

        As a side note, this is why radicals don’t take liberals seriously on the topic of free speech: because liberals wax eloquent about absolute freedom when it’s rhetorically convenient, make hasty caveats about acceptable restrictions when it’s politically necessary, and cover their ears shouting “la la la!” whenever anybody to their left points out the inherent contradiction therein.

        • hophmi April 27, 2014 at 10:53 am | #

          It is clear as day that the pro-Palestinian movement on campus has an MO of acting provocatively to draw opprobrium and then claiming that all opprobrium is a violation of their free speech rights even as they campaign to limit the rights of other students to hear Zionist voices.

          Just look at what happened at Vassar. They picketed a class, and then shouted down the students who dared to criticize them.

      • Will G-R April 27, 2014 at 1:40 pm | #

        Yes, but presumably at some point there’s a proposed standard of acceptable versus unacceptable speech by which their speech is determined to be acceptable and others’ unacceptable. I may not agree with the standards set by any and all pro-Palestinian activists just as you may not agree with the standards set by any and all Zionists, but I believe it’s critically important to accept the existence of conflicting standards and resolve the conflicts through an empirical assessment of the likely utilitarian consequences of different standards governing different discourses. By contrast, you appear to be assuming that your own standards governing the exercise of free speech are fixed in principle and entirely immutable, such that if pro-Palestinian activists do not accept your proposed boundaries (i.e. if they are “acting provocatively to draw opprobrium”), then they must not believe in any such boundaries at all (i.e. “Surely if it’s ok to do one, it’s ok to do the other”). Other possible boundaries exist than your own, and your implicit refusal to so much as admit the possibility of their existence is a pitch-perfect example of arguing in bad faith.

    • Josh K-sky April 25, 2014 at 1:02 pm | #

      Why would that be anywhere near the limits of student activism? Students get in each other’s faces. They learn what’s usefully provocative and what isn’t.

    • adam3smith April 25, 2014 at 4:51 pm | #

      I’d object to forcing graphic images on people, no matter if they’re of murdered Israelis or Palestinians (or, for that matter, the images of “unborn children” so popular among “pro life” demonstrators). But if a group wanted to draw attention to victims of terrorism (or military action) e.g by handing out fake death notices – as long as they’re clearly and quickly recognizable as fake – I don’t have a problem with that, no, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re Israeli, Palestinian, or something else entirely. Do you really want to restrict political speech on college campuses that much?

  3. NathanH April 25, 2014 at 12:27 pm | #

    In 2012 Ron Unz published several articles which seemed to imply that Asian-American students were being discriminated against by Jewish faculty staff at Ivy League universities; upon my own (limited) research, the justification for this seemed to be that Jewish students felt ‘intimidated’ by the encroachment of Asian students onto their “territory” of Top Minority — so their superiors were indulging them (perhaps unconsciously) by engineering a demographic majority (!) of Jews relative to other groups.
    This would be a major scandal if there was some normality to American discourse on ethnic/racial issues, but sadly this is a long way off, and, more importantly, it seems be having an effect on the quality of elite education — Harvard, one of the worst “offenders”, has slumped dramatically in academic performance in recent years.

    • adam3smith April 25, 2014 at 5:10 pm | #

      1. That’s not what Unz’s research showed. It just showed that Jews were over-represented and Asians were underrepresnted. It made no claim whatsoever that discrimination by Jewish faculty and/or administrators had anything to do with it.
      2. Unz data was highly questionable and not by any means good enough to support even the more limited claims of Jewish over-representation he did make. See http://andrewgelman.com/2013/02/12/that-claim-that-harvard-admissions-discriminate-in-favor-of-jews-after-checking-the-statistics-maybe-not/

      • NathanH April 26, 2014 at 4:41 am | #

        It’s quite clear from reading between the lines of Unz’s articles that this is very much what he’s talking about — if he’d said so directly he would have been roasted on Alan Dershowitz’s spit. If these were random fluctuations why don’t they favor other groups, at least occasionally? This may not be the right forum for this discussion (I’ll defer to Prof. Robin on that), but why does Caltech — which has the most stringent admission criteria — have a Jewish population of around 6%, while Harvard and Yale have 25%?

        • Corey Robin April 26, 2014 at 8:56 am | #

          This is definitely not the right forum for this discussion. Please redirect back to the original post.

  4. BillR April 25, 2014 at 11:27 pm | #

    None of this would be happening were people more sensitive to the concerns of someone like the pro-Israel author Phyllis Chesler:

    If virtually any criticism of Israel signals anti-Semitism, the sweep of the new anti-Semitism, unsurprisingly, beggars the imagination. Apart from usual suspects like Arabs, Muslims, and the Third World generally, as well as Europe and the United Nations, Chesler’s rogues’ gallery includes “Western-based human rights organizations, academics, intellectuals”; “Western anticapitalist, antiglobalist, pro-environment, antiracist,” and “antiwar” activists; “progressive feminists,” “Jewish feminists” (“American Jewish feminists stopped fighting for women’s rights in America and began fighting for the rights of the PLO”); “European, and left and liberal American media” like Time magazine, the Associated Press, Reuters, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, British Guardian, Toronto Star, the BBC, NPR, CNN, and ABC, as well as many Israelis like the late “Yeshayahu Leibowitz of Hebrew university”–an orthodox Jew and one of Israel’s most revered intellectuals. And “anyone who denies that this is so,” Chesler throws in for good measure, is also “an anti-Semite.” Small wonder that Chesler sees a world awash in “Nazi-level” anti-Semitism: “It’s as if Hitler’s Brown Shirts have returned from the dead, in greater numbers, and are doing their dirty Kristallnacht work everyday, everywhere.”


  5. NathanH April 26, 2014 at 10:34 am | #

    I’m not at all surprised to see a genuine discussion of Jewish wealth and privilege shut down by a socialist-progressive professor these days. The comment relates quite directly to the power that Jews have in American colleges, and the _possibility_ that this power may be abused — the exclusion of better-credentialled Asian-American students, the harassment of Palestinian activists — but Prof. Robin, a beneficiary of sorts of this power, finds this uncomfortable, and we must remain silent. In passing, I note the ‘nyulocal’ website detailing this shemozzle says that “Jews…comprise 25% of the student body.”

    • Elizabeth April 26, 2014 at 4:53 pm | #

      Some of us are trying to talk about how to win Palestinian liberation and how to deal with repression and double standards while we do so. Please keep your anti-Semitism out of it.

      • NathanH April 27, 2014 at 4:00 am | #

        In response to Elizabeth, I don’t see why a particular group’s socio-economic status, and the use of that status to political advantage (which all groups do to some extent) should be off limits in a discussion like this.
        As a side note, given that I was threatened with expulsion for even raising this, Prof. Robin should show consistency by reprimanding those who make crude allegations of bigotry.
        I would also like to know how the influence of Zionists (including wealthy Christian donors, as well as pro-Israel Jews) in American universities is not relevant to the “eviction” notice incidents — isn’t this institutionalized prejudice against anti-Zionists?

  6. Corey Robin April 26, 2014 at 10:37 am | #

    We’re not having a discussion on my blog about Jewish wealth and privilege. One more from you, NathanH, you’ll be banned. And if this thread devolves into that, I’ll close the comments section.

  7. Robin Messing April 27, 2014 at 9:04 pm | #

    This is just one more example in a long line of right wing Zionists playing (read abusing) the anti-Semite card to try to stifle or discredit opinions they don’t like. I discuss other examples here


    And playing the anti-Semite card is but one of several tactics used against those who favor BDS. I discuss these tactics here


    I am very much in debt to you Corey for your documentation and comments on the shenanigans at NYU

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